Generic ketchup

By Tim Cool

Recently, I met a great, old friend for breakfast. He took me to his favorite local breakfast spot called Pete’s Diner.

It looked like a typical diner to me – old, not particularly “shiny” or clean, a bit run-down. But that’s OK; I’m not turned off by the outside or inside look of the place. I’ve been to enough diners to know that doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of food. However, I did get disappointed when I sat down and saw the generic ketchup.

When I see generic ketchup at a restaurant, I say to myself: If they’re willing to save a penny per customer (two pennies at the most) by using generic ketchup – and this is one of the most visible condiments – then how are they saving money in the kitchen? All of a sudden, I don’t want to eat there anymore.

In my experience, the worst restaurant is located here in my town. I used to go there for breakfast. Not only did it serve generic ketchup; the labels were falling off the plastic, generic bottles! You’d open the cap to pour out the ketchup and know right away that the dried-up ketchup around the cap had been there not just for a few hours or days, but likely for months! In other words, they were also refilling the generic ketchup bottles.

I avoid going to that local diner not because I hate generic ketchup, but because it tells me something about the restaurant’s priorities.

And, for the first time, while sitting at the local diner with my friend, the “generic ketchup” application to church hit me.

What messages are we sending to church guests when we do things in a less-than-excellent manner? What are the “generic ketchups” in our building – cheap things that we don’t even notice anymore? What message is being received by new people that we aren’t intending to send, but we’re clearly communicating when we save a few bucks and put “generic ketchup” on the table?

Here are a few more thoughts I have on generic ketchup:

  • I noticed the regulars never notice generic ketchup. They are used to it. It doesn’t bother them, and they don’t think it should bother new people either.
  • The management and owners are focused on pleasing the regulars rather than on making the best impression on first-time customers. By doing so they’re overlooking glaring problems.
  • No one speaks for the first-time customer. If a regular doesn’t like something, they will speak up. If a new customer to the restaurant doesn’t like something, they won’t say anything – they simply won’t return. (This happens in churches all the time!)
  • Loyal customers are willing to overlook some things, but a new customer may not be as willing.
  • Positive changes will cause regular customers to complain, even if the changes are helpful to new customers. For example, loyal customers may not welcome a new menu because they are used to the old one.
  • Loyal customers tend to be blind to obvious faults that new people see immediately. For example: the smelly entryway, ripped cushions in the booths, old plates and coffee cups, etc.
  • Old and run-down might work well for diners, but I don’t think it’s OK for churches. Diners have a reputation for being old and run-down, with great food at great prices – it’s common. But, ugly, smelly, yet effective churches are not.

Let me give some applications to church life:

  • This is the primary application: Excellence matters. We often say that excellence honors God and inspires people. I don’t think that means you have to spend a lot of money to be excellent. It simply means that whatever we do, we need to do it well.
  • We must look at our church facilities through the eyes of new people. At our church, we know that many of those who walk in our door for the first time are either non-believers, new believers, or immature believers. So, the look of our facility matters. If they are turned off while checking us out, let it be by the Gospel, not because the facility creeps them out a bit.
  • We tell our new employees and new interns that they are very valuable to us in their first six months because they will see things that we don’t notice anymore. They will ask, “Why do you do that?” We try very hard to see everything through a new person’s eyes, but because we’re no longer new, it’s really difficult to see things through new eyes.
  • We need to try to get feedback from new people. They will help us see things we don’t notice. We likely won’t change some or many of them, but being aware of what is hard to swallow for a visitor is very important. For example, we choose to stand and sing for 10 minutes to 20 minutes straight every week. That is not visitor-friendly, but at this point for the sake of corporate worship, we do it. But we need to be aware of that tension.

What “generic ketchup” do you serve in your church facility?

Tim Cool is project executive at Visioneering Studios and founder of Cool Solutions Group.
Since 1986, Cool has served the church community in the areas of facility planning, construction and life cycle planning/facility management. He can be reached at


One Response to “Generic ketchup”

  1. Sally Scott

    I agree with you Tim, but being an “old” regular I don.t know what to fix. ( other than the hall ways).
    I do see all the improvements Meg has made.

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